Our yard is small, and unfortunately it’s paved, but in the short time we’ve lived here I’ve come across more insects than I thought a small paved yard like this could support. Maybe this is because our house is old (it used to be a mill house), maybe they’ve migrated from the woodland at the back of our house, or maybe the people before us were rather messy gardeners too.
When gardening, I have come across the obligatory woodlice but also predatory species like centipedes which is encouraging e.g. there must be enough prey to support populations of predators. During the summer the Ivy (not sure of exact species) is interwoven with some kind of purple bell flower which bees seem to love. So all in all, in summer it’s quite a jolly little place.
However, improvements can always be made to improve the value of a site for wildlife, even titchy ones! Here is a list of suggestions I have found and copied from the Amateur Entomologist’s website, which gives me some food for thought about how to move forward with our own little space.
Dig a pond
A pond provides a wide range of habitats and will be quickly colonised by dragonflies, damselflies, pond skaters, back swimmers, water beetles and aquatic larvae of many other insects. Avoid putting fish in your pond if possible as these will eat the insects and other small creatures in the pond.
Stop using chemicals
Many pesticides and insecticides are indiscriminate and however carefully you use them they will kill a wide range of insects and not just the few you are targeting. Even if the pesticides do not kill an insect that comes into direct contact with it, the pesticide can reach lethal levels for other animals (other invertebrates or vertebrate predators such as birds and hedgehogs) as they feed on ‘contaminated’ prey.
Plant native plants
Our native flora and fauna evolved together and have developed close associations. For example, the caterpillars of some species of butterfly will only feed on one species of plant. Native plants (including trees) support a wider range of other species than many exotic plants so, where possible, plant native plants.
Create a range of habitats
Try to create a range of different habitats in you garden. If you’re not lucky enough to have a range of established habitats in your garden already you can create artificial ones, for example: create a pond, sow native flower seeds or even leave a bare patch of earth in a sunny location for solitary, mining bees.
Set aside an area
Leave an area (however small) untouched, the long grass will provide a refuge for many insects and other small creatures.
Consider making a ‘nectar bar’
Include plants that are rich in nectar in your planting schemes. For example Buddleia is well known for attracting nectar feeding insects such as butterflies and hoverflies throughout the summer. In the Autumn Ivy (Hedera helix) is an excellent source of nectar.
Compost your waste
Not only does this reduce the amount of waste in your domestic rubbish and provide you with compost for your garden, the compost heap will also be a haven for insects and other wildlife. Your compost bin can be a simple wooden box 1m³ made from an old wooden pallet or packing crate.
Leave dead heading until late spring to provide overwintering sites for insects and other invertebrates.
Be more tolerant
Many insects will chew our plants or nibble on our fruit but if you want them to be regular visitors to your garden, then it’s better to accept the odd eaten leaf and damaged fruit. You may even decide to plant sacrificial plants purely to provide food for insects.
Take time to enjoy your garden and find out more about its inhabitants
It’s difficult to appreciate the range of insects in your garden if you can’t identify them. Being able to tell the difference between bees and their hoverfly mimics or recognising the different species of butterfly will result in you deriving more enjoyment from your garden.
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Some of these suggestions are naturally not a problem for me! I am not a particularly attentive gardener so leaving dead heading until Spring, leaving piles of leaves and being tolerant of insect munching come quite easily to me. However somethings I could consider are a nectar bar, providing a water source and trying my best to buy native species (with local provenance where possible). This is difficult as my MIL gives me some plants and furthermore garden centres aren’t always as strict with their provenance as they perhaps should be, but I can try my best.
Anyway, there’s some more progress on the way to making my own garden more bee friendly, learning what works in attracting beneficial insects and then trying to apply my knowledge to help it happen a bit more in my town!